The credibility of Google's news tool has come under fire again following its use of press releases from far-right UK political group the British National Party.

Web users can sign up to receive Google news alerts on specialist subjects. The aggregator scans around 4,500 sites for selected keywords, and emails relevant stories to the user.

But the inclusion of press releases has been criticised by many journalists, who argue that such material is designed to inform a news story and should not be interpreted as news itself.

However, a defiant Google defended its position. "It is our policy to include press releases in Google News as we believe press releases can be valuable resources in pointing to the origin of a news story," said Ema Linaker, spokesperson for Google UK.

"We clearly mark press releases as such to inform the user of the origin of the information."

She added that someone researching the BNP, for example, might be interested to know what kind of news they are pursuing.

Recent press releases published by the BNP included an attack on Labour peer Baroness Valerie Amos for her work in international development.

"Surely, as someone who so obviously hates what Britain stands for, could there be any better vocation than giving billions of taxpayers' hard won cash away to the Third world?" said a report published on the BNP site on 28 October.

Another press release criticised Thames Valley police for their involvement with the local Muslim community during the festival of Ramadan, and called the Inland Revenue 'leeches' for sponsoring a local radio show during the event.

The unsophisticated nature of the search engine's news service is apparent from the fact that a recent Google Alert on the late DJ John Peel picked up a tribute from the BNP site

"I think it's disgraceful to say that this is a legitimate site to link to," said Jenny Lennox, online organiser for the National Union of Journalists.

"They have a right to put out press releases, but they are not a news agency."

"Within two links you can be on pages that give their [the BNP's] distorted history of the British Isles," Ms Lennox told dotJournalism.

Martin Hamer, web journalism lecturer at Sheffield University, suggested that Google should separate press releases from bona fide news stories.

"I feel it is dangerous having an automated news process like the Google one as clearly things sometimes get through that shouldn't," said Mr Hamer.

"Good news organisations do not have news editors and sub-editors for nothing. A lot goes into the editorial process and that is obviously not reflected here."

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